Kansas-born William Inge (1913-73) is best known as the author of Bus Stop, the stage play that was developed into the 1956 Marilyn Monroe movie of the same title. His short play The Rainy Afternoon, published in a 1962 collection of his one-acters, was a sketch in which he explored some ideas that he was considering using in a larger work that ultimately remained unwritten.
The play sits on some uncomfortable borderlines. Its three characters are all young American children, but the script requires performances of a sophistication that can only be expected of older actors: like Dennis Potter’s better known Blue Remembered Hills, it is a play about children written for performance by adults. To add another layer of complexity, these child characters are themselves pretending to be adults, imitating behavior they have observed in their parents: the play starts with the two girls, Wilma and Billie Mae, dressed up in their mothers’ clothes for a mock tea party in a barn, and when the boy, Vic, joins them, he and Wilma play house and relegate Billie Mae to the role of their daughter.
From the first, this is a story specifically about spanking: the opening conversation between the two ‘let’s pretend’ mothers is about how their offspring (or, in reality, their dolls) should be spanked to make them behave. Wilma – the older girl and the play’s principal spanking advocate – is obviously mimicking her own mother: ‘I know everything grownups do. I’ve watched my mother and daddy,’ she says later on. She talks Billie Mae into spanking her doll twice during the initial stages of the play. And her idea of parenting is bad news for Billie Mae when she herself becomes the child of the pretend parents…
At this point it is prudent to break off and say that nobody here at the Spank Statement has absolutely any interest whatsoever in seeing little girls being spanked, and we recommend that anyone who does should (a) steer well clear of little girls and (b) refrain from advocating the disciplinary uses of childhood spanking. Having said that, we are not at all averse to seeing big girls get spanked when they are pretending to be little girls (which is, of course, the plot of Act Your Age).
And that’s fortunate, because otherwise we’d have missed out on this:
That’s The Rainy Afternoon as presented by the University of Pennsylvania in 2002, as part of a double bill of short plays they brought it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
So now we know what’s coming…
So Vic is playing the tired husband, just home from the office. And almost the first subject Wilma raises is their daughter’s naughtiness, and what he must do about it:
WILMA: Baby’s been very bad today, Hubby dear. I’m afraid you’ll have to spank her.
VIC: All right.
WILMA: She just refused to do everything I told her to do, so you’ll have to spank her to keep her from growing up to be a very bad girl.
VIC: All right.
He picks up Billie Mae and starts to put her over his knee.
BILLIE MAE (accusingly, to Wilma): I don’t think this is fair.
WILMA: It’s just pretending, silly.
VIC (spanking her lightly): You must be a good girl, Baby dear, and do everything your mother tells you.
WILMA: You must spank her hard, Hubby dear. She’s been a very bad girl.
Vic spanks her harder.
BILLIE MAE (jumping off Vic’s lap): I’m not going to play any more if you keep on spanking me.
WILMA: I guess she’s been punished enough, Hubby dear.
But perhaps she doesn’t really think that, because shortly afterwards Billie Mae gets a new role, the maid… and Wilma complains about how idle and disobedient she is. She must be punished, but when Vic suggests just firing her, Wilma doesn’t approve of that idea. (It’s apparently hard to find even bad, uncooperative servants!) It’s fairly obvious that she’s hoping ‘Hubby’ will choose some other way of disciplining the naughty maid, but this time she’s out of luck. The game moves on to a family meal, then Baby’s bedtime, and finally Wilma and Vic too go up to their ‘bedroom’ in the hay loft. At the end of the playlet, the disturbed Billie Mae, realizing that they are ‘doing something bad’, creeps out of the barn vowing never to play with them again, and leaving an eerie silence behind her…
As you can see, U. Penn. made a welcome unscripted embellishment that isn’t generally found in high school productions with only slightly younger performers. But at least the spanking scene is sometimes photographed. Here, for example, we see Pat Gentile as Vic spanking Pam Schlemmer as Billie Mae, with the more than usually active complicity of Melody Bowser as Wilma:
This production was done in 1977 by the Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California. And the very same school did the play again twenty years later in 1997, directed by the very same teacher, Randall Bowden:
This time it’s Shane Brady punishing Melanie Lindahl, but without quite such overt assistance from Wilma.
And nearly up to date, here’s a production at a 2013 theater festival in Bangalore:
The Rainy Afternoon is such a brief play – the published script runs to just 8 pages – that prospects of a fullscale professional production are slim. But this also makes it perfect for schools and colleges looking for one-act plays or trying to construct a bill of shorts. This very year, 2014, it returned to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as part of Inge at the Fringe, a collection of William Inge shorts performed by high school students from Wichita in his home state of Kansas, including Emily Goodpasture Ottaway as Billie Mae:
Unfortunately their photographer didn’t serve us as well as the production in general, but at least we have the satisfaction of knowing that The Rainy Afternoon is another spanking play that is still very much alive!